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The  Geographical  Pivot  of  History 

H.  J.  Mackinder 

The  Geographical  Journal  Vol.  23,  No.  4  (Apr.,  1904),  421-437. 

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Sun  Jul  4  23:15:12  2004 


Geographical  Journal. 

No.  4.  APEIL,  1904.  Vol.  XXIII. 


By  H.  J.  MACKINDER,  M.A.,  Eeader  in  Geography  in  the  University  of 
Oxford ;  Director  of  the  London  School  of  Economics  and  Political  Science. 

When  historians  in  the  remote  future  come  to  look  back  on  the  group 
of  centuries  through  which  we  are  now  passing,  and  see  them  fore- 
shortened, as  we  to-day  see  the  Egyptian  dynasties,  it  may  well  be  that 
they  will  describe  the  last  400  years  as  the  Columbian  epoch,  and  will  say 
that  it  ended  soon  after  the  year  1900.  Of  late  it  has  been  a  common- 
place to  speak  of  geographical  exploration  as  nearly  over,  and  it  is  recog- 
nized that  geography  must  be  diverted  to  the  purpose  of  intensive  survey 
and  philosophic  synthesis.  In  400  years  the  outline  of  the  map  of  the 
world  has  been  completed  with  approximate  accuracy,  and  even  in  the 
polar  regions  the  voyages  of  Nansen  and  Scott  have  very  narrowly 
reduced  the  last  possibility  of  dramatic  discoveries.  But  the  opening 
of  the  twentieth  century  is  appropriate  as  the  end  of  a  great  historic 
epoch,  not  merely  on  account  of  this  achievement,  great  though  it  be. 
The  missionary,  the  conqueror,  the  farmer,  the  miner,  and,  of  late,  the 
engineer,  have  followed  so  closely  in  the  traveller's  footsteps  that  the 
world,  in  its  remoter  borders,  has  hardly  been  revealed  before  we  must 
chronicle  its  virtually  complete  political  appropriation.  In  Europe, 
North  America,  South  America,  Africa,  and  Australasia  there  is 
scarcely  a  region  left  for  the  pegging  out  of  a  claim  of  ownership, 
unless  as  the  result  of  a  war  between  civilized  or  half-civilized  powers. 
Even  in  Asia  we  are  probably  witnessing  the  last  moves  of  the  game 
first  played  by  the  horsemen  of  Yermak  the  Cossack  and  the  shipmen 
of  Vasco  da  Gama.  Broadly  speaking,  we  may  contrast  the  Columbian 
epoch  with  the  age  which  preceded  it,  by  describing  its  essential 

*  Bead  at  the  Eoyal  Geographical  Society,  January  25,  1904. 
No.  IV.— April,  1904.]  2  P 



characteristic  as  the  expansion  of  Europe  against  almost  negligible 
resistances,  whereas  mediaeval  Christendom  was  pent  into  a  narrow 
region  and  threatened  "by  external  barbarism.  From  the  present  time 
forth,  in  the  post-Columbian  age,  we  shall  again  have  to  deal  with  a 
closed  political  system,  and  none  the  less  that  it  will  be  one  of  world- 
wide scope.  Every  explosion  of  social  forces,  instead  of  being  dissipated 
in  a  surrounding  circuit  of  unknown  space  and  barbaric  chaos,  will  be 
sharply  re-echoed  from  the  far  side  of  the  globe,  and  weak  elements 
in  the  political  and  economic  organism  of  the  world  will  be  shattered 
in  consequence.  There  is  a  vast  difference  of  effect  in  the  fall  of  a 
shell  into  an  earthwork  and  its  fall  amid  the  closed  spaces  and  rigid 
structures  of  a  great  building  or  ship.  Probably  some  half-conscious- 
ness of  this  fact  is  at  last  diverting  much  of  the  attention  of  statesmen 
in  all  parts  of  the  world  from  territorial  expansion  to  the  struggle  for 
relative  efficiency. 

It  appears  to  me,  therefore,  that  in  the  present  decade  we  are  for  the 
first  time  in  a  position  to  attempt,  with  some  degree  of  completeness, 
a  correlation  between  the  larger  geographical  and  the  larger  historical 
generalizations.  For  the  first  time  we  can  perceive  something  of  the  real 
proportion  of  features  and  events  on  the  stage  of  the  whole  world,  and 
may  seek  a  formula  which  shall  express  certain  aspects,  at  any  rate, 
of  geographical  causation  in  universal  history.  If  we  are  fortunate,  that 
formula  should  have  a  practical  value  as  setting  into  perspective  some 
of  the  competing  forces  in  current  international  politics.  The  familiar 
phrase  about  the  westward  march  of  empire  is  an  empirical  and  frag- 
mentary attempt  of  the  kind.  I  propose  this  evening  describing  those 
physical  features  of  the  world  which  I  believe  to  have  been  most  coercive 
of  human  action,  and  presenting  some  of  the  chief  phases  of  history  as 
organically  connected  with  them,  even  in  the  ages  when  they  were 
unknown  to  geography.  My  aim  will  not  be  to  discuss  the  influence  of 
this  or  that  kind  of  feature,  or  yet  to  make  a  study  in  regional  geo- 
graphy, but  rather  to  exhibit  human  history  as  part  of  the  life  of  the 
world  organism.  I  recognize  that  I  can  only  arrive  at  one  aspect  of 
the  truth,  and  I  have  no  wish  to  stray  into  excessive  materialism.  Man 
and  not  nature  initiates,  but  nature  in  large  measure  controls.  My 
concern  is  with  the  general  physical  control,  rather  than  the  causes  of 
universal  history.  It  is  obvious  that  only  a  first  approximation  to 
truth  can  be  hoped  for,    I  shall  be  humble  to  my  critics. 

The,  late  Prof.  Freeman  held  that  the  only  history  which  counts 
is  that  of  the  Mediterranean  and  European  races.  In  a  sense,  of  course, 
this  is  true,  for  it  is  among  these  races  that  have  originated  the  ideas 
which  have  rendered  the  inheritors  of  Greece  and  Eome  dominant 
throughout  the  world.  In  another  and  very  important  sense,  however, 
such  a  limitation  has  a  cramping  effect  upon  thought.  The  ideas  which 
go  to  form  a  nation,  as  opposed  to  a  mere  crowd  of  human  animals, 



have  usually  been  accepted  under  the  pressure  of  a  common  tribu- 
lation, and  under  a  common  necessity  of  resistance  to  external  force. 
The  idea  of  England  was  beaten  into  the  Heptarchy  by  Danish  and 
Norman  conquerors ;  the  idea  of  France  was  forced  upon  competing 
Franks,  Goths,  and  Bomans  by  the  Huns  at  Chalons,  and  in  the 
Hundred  Years'  War  with  England ;  the  idea  of  Christendom  was  born 
of  the  Eoman  persecutions,  and  matured  by  the  Crusades ;  the  idea  of  the 
United  States  was  accepted,  and  local  colonial  patriotism  sunk,  only  in 
the  long  War  of  Independence ;  the  idea  of  the  German  Empire  was 
reluctantly  adopted  in  South  Germany  only  after  a  struggle  against 
France  in  comradeship  with  North  Germany.  What  I  may  describe  as 
the  literary  conception  of  history,  by  concentrating  attention  upon  ideas 
and  upon  the  civilization  which  is  their  outcome,  is  apt  to  lose  sight  of 
the  more  elemental  movements  whose  pressure  is  commonly  the  exciting 
cause  of  the  efforts  in  which  great  ideas  are  nourished.  A  repellent 
personality  performs  a  valuable  social  function  in  uniting  his  enemies, 
and  it  was  under  the  pressure  of  external  barbarism  that  Europe 
achieved  her  civilization.  I  ask  you,  therefore,  for  a  moment  to  look 
upon  Europe  and  European  history  as  subordinate  to  Asia  and  Asiatic 
history,  for  European  civilization  is,  in  a  very  real  sense,  the  outcome  of 
the  secular  struggle  against  Asiatic  invasion. 

The  most  remarkable  contrast  in  the  political  map  of  modern 
Europe  is  that  presented  by  the  vast  area  of  Eussia  occupying  half 
the  Continent  and  the  group  of  smaller  territories  tenanted  by  the 
Western  Powers.  From  a  physical  point  of  view,  there  is,  of  course, 
a  like  contrast  between  the  unbroken  lowland  of  the  east  and  the 
rich  complex  of  mountains  and  valleys,  islands  and  peninsulas,  which 
together  form  the  remainder  of  this  part  of  the  world.  At  first  sight 
it  would  appear  that  in  these  familiar  facts  we  have  a  correlation 
between  natural  environment  and  political  organization  so  obvious  as 
hardly  to  be  worthy  of  description,  especially  when  we  note  that 
throughout  the  Eussian  plain  a  cold  winter  is  opposed  to  a  hot  summer, 
and  the  conditions  of  human  existence  thus  rendered  additionally 
uniform.  Yet  a  series  of  historical  maps,  such  as  that  contained  in 
the  Oxford  Atlas,  will  reveal  the  fact  that  not  merely  is  the  rough 
coincidence  of  European  Eussia  with  the  Eastern  Plain  of  Europe  a 
matter  of  the  last  hundred  years  or  so,  but  that  in  all  earlier  time 
there  was  persistent  re-assertion  of  quite  another  tendency  in  the 
political  grouping.  Two  groups  of  states  usually  divided  the  country 
into  northern  and  southern  political  systems.  The  fact  is  that 
the  orographical  map  does  not  express  the  particular  physical  contrast 
which  has  until  very  lately  controlled  human  movement  and  settlement 
in  Eussia.  When  the  screen  of  winter  snow  fades  northward  off  the 
vast  face  of  the  plain,  it  is  followed  by  rains  whose  maximum  occurs 
in  May  and  June  beside  the  Black  sea,  but  near  the  Baltic  and  White 




seas  is  deferred  to  July  and  August.  In  the  south  the  later  summer 
is  a  period  of  drought.  As  a  consequence  of  this  climatic  regime,  the 
north  and  north-west  were  forest  broken  only  by  marshes,  whereas 
the  south  and  south-east  were  a  boundless  grassy  steppe,  with  trees 
only  along  the  rivers.  The  line  separating  the  two  regions  ran 
diagonally  north-eastward  from  the  northern  end  of  the  Carpathians 

 Fig- 1 


Rafter  drude   in   berghaus1  physical  atlas) 

to  a  point  in  the  Ural  range  nearer  to  its  southern  than  to  its  northern 
extremity.  Moscow  lies  a  little  to  north  of  this  line,  or,  in  other  words, 
on  the  forest  side  of  it.  Outside  Euseia  the  boundary  of  the  great  forest 
ran  westward  almost  exactly  through  the  centre  of  the  European 
isthmus,  which  is  800  miles  across  be  twee  n  the  Baltic  and  the  Black 
seas.  Beyond  this,  in  Peninsular  Europe,  the  woods  spread  on  through 
the  plains  of  Germany  in  the  north,  while  the  steppe  lands  in  the  south 



turned  the  great  Transylvanian  bastion  of  the  Carpathians,  and  extended 
up  the  Danube,  through  what  are  now  the  cornfields  of  Eonmania,  to  the 
Iron  Gates.  A  detached  area  of  steppes,  known  locally  as  Pusstas, 
now  largely  cultivated,  occupied  the  plain  of  Hungary,  ingirt  by  the 
forested  rim  of  Carpathian  and  Alpine  mountains.  In  all  the  west  of 
Russia,  save  in  the  far  north,  the  clearing  of  the  forests,  the  drainage  of 

fig- z 

Darbishire&Stanford.Ltd.,  The  Oxford  Ceogf  Institute. 



the  marshes,  and  the  tillage  of  the  steppes  have  recently  averaged  the 
character  of  the  landscape,  and  in  large  measure  obliterated  a  distinction 
which  was  formerly  very  coercive  of  humanity. 

The  earlier  Kussia  and  Poland  were  established  wholly  in  the  glades 
of  the  forest.  Through  the  steppe  on  the  other  hand  there  came  from 
the  unknown  recesses  of  Asia,  by  the  gateway  between  the  Ural  moun- 
tains and  the  Caspian  sea,  in  all  the  centuries  from  the  fifth  to  the 



sixteenth,  a  remarkable  succession  of  Turanian  nomadic  peoples  — 
Huns,  Avars,  Bulgarians,  Magyars,  Khazars,  Patzinaks,  Cumans, 
Mongols,  Kalmuks.  Under  Attila  the  Huns  established  themselves 
in  the  midst  of  the  Pusstas,  in  the  uttermost  Danubian  outlier  of 
the  steppes,  and  thence  dealt  blows  northward,  westward,  and  south- 
ward against  the  settled  peoples  of  Europe.    A  large  part  of  modern 

Darbishire&Stanford  Ltd.  The  Oxford  Geog!  Institute 



history  might  be  written  as  a  commentary  upon  the  changes  directly 
or  indirectly  ensuing  from  these  raids.  The  Angles  and  Saxons,  it 
is  quite  possible,  were  then  driven  to  cross  the  seas  to  found  England 
in  Britain.  The  Franks,  the  Goths,  and  the  Eoman  provincials  were 
compelled,  for  the  first  time,  to  stand  shoulder  to  shoulder  on  the 
battlefield  of  Chalons,  making  common  cause  against  the  Asiatics, 
who  were  unconsciously;  welding  together  modern  France.  Venice 



was  founded  from  the  destruction  of  Aquileia  and  Padua ;  and  even  the 
Papacy  owed  a  decisive  prestige  to  the  successful  mediation  of  Pope 
Leo  with  Attila  at  Milan.  Such  was  the  harvest  of  results  produced 
by  a  cloud  of  ruthless  and  idealess  horsemen  sweeping  over  the  un- 
impeded plain — a  blow,  as  it  were,  from  the  great  Asiatic  hammer 
striking  freely  through  the  vacant  space.  The  Huns  were  followed 
by  the  Avars.  It  was  for  a  marchland  against  these  that  Austria 
was  founded,  and  Vienna  fortified,  as  the  result  of  the  campaigns 
of  Charlemagne.  The  Magyar  came  next,  and  by  incessant  raiding 
from  his  steppe  base  in  Hungary  increased  the  significance  of  the 
Austrian  outpost,  so  drawing  the  political  focus  of  Germany  east- 
ward to  the  margin  of  the  realm.  The  Bulgarian  established  a  ruling 
caste  south  of  the  Danube,  and  has  left  his  name  upon  the  map, 
although  his  language  has  yielded  to  that  of  his^Slavonic  subjects. 
Perhaps  the  longest  and  most  effective  occupation  of  the  Russian 
steppe  proper  was  that  of  the  Khazars,  who  were  contemporaries 
of  the  great  Saracen  movement :  the  Arab  geographers  knew  the 
Caspian  as  the  Khazar  sea.  In  the  end,  however,  new  hordes  arrived 
from  Mongolia,  and  for  two  centuries  Russia  in  the  northern  forest 
was  held  tributary  to  the  Mongol  Khans  of  Kipchak,  or  "  the  Steppe," 
and  Russian  development  was  thus  delayed  and  biassed  at  a  time  when 
the  remainder  of  Europe  was  rapidly  advancing. 

It  should  be  noted  that  the  rivers  running  from  the  Forest  to  the 
Black  and  Caspian  seas  cross  the  whole  breadth  of  the  steppe-land  path 
of  the  nomads,  and  that  from  time  to  time  there  were  transient  move- 
ments along  their  courses  at  right  angles  to  the  movement  of  the 
horsemen.  Thus  the  missionaries  of  Greek  Christianity  ascended  the 
Dnieper  to  Kief,  just  as  beforehand  the  Norse  Varangians  had  descended 
the  same  river  on  their  way  to  Constantinople.  Still  earlier,  the 
Teutonic  Goths  appear  for  a  moment  upon  the  Dniester,  having  crossed 
Europe  from  the  shores  of  the  Baltic  in  the  same  south-eastward 
direction.  But  these  are  passing  episodes  which  do  not  invalidate  the 
broader  generalization.  For  a  thousand  years  a  series  of  horse-riding 
peoples  emerged  from  Asia  through  the  broad  interval  between  the 
Ural  mountains  and  the  Caspian  sea,  rode  through  the  open  spaces  of 
southern  Russia,  and  struck  home  into  Hungary  in  the  very  heart  of 
the  European  peninsula,  shaping  by  the  necessity  of  opposing  them  the 
history  of  each  of  the  great  peoples  around— the  Russians,  the  Germans, 
the  French,  the  Italians,  and  the  Byzantine  Greeks.  That  they  stimu- 
lated healthy  aDd  powerful  reaction,  instead  of  crushing  opposition 
under  a  widespread  despotism,  was  due  to  the  fact  that  the  mobility  of 
their  power  was  conditioned  by  the  steppes,  and  necessarily  ceased  in 
the  surrounding  forests  and  mountains. 

A  rival  mobility  of  power  was  that  of  the  Vikings  in  their  boats. 
Descending  from  Scandinavia  both  upon  the  northern  and  the  southern 



shores  of  Europe,  they  penetrated  inland  by  the  river  ways.  But  the 
scope  of  their  action  was  limited,  for,  broadly  speaking,  their  power 
was  effective  only  in  the  neighbourhood  of  the  water.  Thus  the  settled 
peoples  of  .Europe  lay  gripped  between  two  pressures — that  of  the 
Asiatic  nomads  from  the  east,  and  on  the  other  three  sides  that  of  the 
pirates  from  the  sea.  From  its  very  nature  neither  pressure  was  over- 
whelming, and  both  therefore  were  stimulative.  It  is  noteworthy  that 
the  formative  influence  of  the  Scandinavians  was  second  only  in  sig- 
nificance to  that  of  the  nomads,  for  under  their  attack  both  England 
and  France  made  long  moves  towards  unity,  while  the  unity  of  Italy 
was  broken  by  them.  In  earlier  times,  Eome  had  mobilized  the  power 
of  her  settled  peoples  by  means  of  her  roads,  but  the  Roman  roads  had 
fallen  into  decay,  and  were  not  replaced  until  the  eighteenth  century. 

It  is  likely  that  even  the  Hunnish  invasion  was  by  no  means  the 
first  of  the  Asiatic  series.  The  Scythians  of  the  Homeric  and  Hero- 
dotian  accounts,  drinking  the  milk  of  mares,  obviously  practised  the 
same  arts  of  life,  and  were  probably  of  the  same  race  as  the  later 
inhabitants  of  the  steppe.  The  Celtic  element  in  the  river-names  Don, 
Dowetz,  Dneiper,  Dneister,  and  Danube  may  possibly  betoken  the 
passage  of  peoples  of  similar  habits,  though  not  of  identical  race,  but 
it  is  not  unlikely  that  the  Celts  came  merely  from  the  northern  forests, 
like  the  Goths  and  Varangians  of  a  later  time.  The  great  wedge  of 
population,  however,  which  the  anthropologists  characterize  as  Brachy- 
Cephalic,  driven  westward  from  Bra  chy- Cephalic  Asia  through  Central 
Europe  into  France,  is  apparently  intrusive  between  the  northern, 
western,  and  southern  Dolico-Cephalic  populations,  and  may  very 
probably  have  been  derived  from  Asia.* 

The  full  meaning  of  Asiatic  influence  upon  Europe  is  not,  however, 
discernible  until  we  come  to  the  Mongol  invasions  of  the  fifteenth 
century ;  but  before  we  analyze  the  essential  facts  concerning  these,  it 
is  desirable  to  shift  our  geographical  view-point  from  Europe,  so  that 
we  may  consider  the  Old  World  in  its  entirety.  It  is  obvious  that, 
since  the  rainfall  is  derived  from  the  sea,  the  heart  of  the  greatest 
land-mass  is  likely  to  be  relatively  dry.  We  are  not,  therefore,  sur- 
prised to  find  that  two- thirds  of  all  the  world's  population  is  concen- 
trated in  relatively  small  areas  along  the  margins  of  the  great  continent — 
in  Europe,  beside  the  Atlantic  ocean;  in  the  Indies  and  China,  beside  the 
Indian  and  Pacific  oceans.  A  vast  belt  of  almost  uninhabited,  because 
practically  rainless,  land  extends  as  the  Sahara  completely  across 
Northern  Africa  into  Arabia.  Central  and  Southern  Africa  were  almost 
as  completely  severed  from  Europe  and  Asia  throughout  the  greater 
part  of  history  as  were  the  Americas  and  Australia.  In  fact,  the 
southern  boundary  of  Europe  was  and  is  the  Sahara  rather  than  the 

*  See  'The  Races  of  Europe,'  by  Prof.  W.  Z.  Ripley  (Kegan  Paul,  1900). 



Mediterranean,  for  it  is  the  desert  which  divides  the  black  man  from 
the  white.  The  continuous  land-mass  of  Euro- Asia  thus  included 
between  the  ocean  and  the  desert  measures  21,000,000  square  miles, 
or  half  of  all  the  land  on  the  globe,  if  we  exclude  from  reckoning  the 
deserts  of  Sahara  and  Arabia.  There  are  many  detached  deserts  scat- 
tered through  Asia,  from  Syria  and  Persia  north-eastward  to  Manchuria, 
but  no  such  continuous  vacancy  as  to  be  comparable  with  the  Sahara. 
On  the  other  hand,  Euro-Asia  is  characterized  by  a  very  remarkable 
distribution  of  river  drainage.  Throughout  an  immense  portion  of 
the  centre  and  north,  the  rivers  have  been  practically  useless  for 
purposes  of  human  communication  with  the  outer  world.  The  Volga, 
the  Oxus,  and  the  Jaxartes  drain  into  salt  lakes ;  the  Obi,  the  Yenesei, 
and  the  Lena  into  the  frozen  ocean  of  the  north.    These  are  six  of  the 

Darbishire  &  Stanford  Ltd.  The  Oxford  Geog'  Institute. 



greatest  rivers  in  the  world.  There  are  many  smaller  but  still  con- 
siderable streams  in  the  same  area,  such  as  the  Tarim  and  the  Helmund, 
which  similarly  fail  to  reach  the  ocean.  Thus  the  core  of  Euro- Asia, 
although  mottled  with  desert  patches,  is  on  the  whole  a  steppe-land 
supplying  a  wide-spread  if  often  scanty  pasture,  and  there  are  not  a 
few  river- fed  oases  in  it,  but  it  is  wholly  unpenetrated  by  waterways 
from  the  ocean.  In  other  words,  we  have  in  this  immense  area  all 
the  conditions  for  the  maintenance  of  a  sparse,  but  in  the  aggregate 
considerable,  population  of  horse-riding  and  camel-riding  nomads.  Their 
realm  is  limited  northward  by  a  broad  belt  of  sub-arctic  forest  and 
marsh,  wherein  the  climate  is  too  rigorous,  except  at  the  eastern  and 
western  extremities,  for  the  development  of  agricultural  settlements.  In 
the  east  the  forests  extend  southward  to  the  Pacific  coast  in  the  Amur 



land  and  Manchuria.  Similarly  in  the  west,  in  prehistoric  Europe,  forest 
was  the  predominant  vegetation.  Thus  framed  in  to  the  north-east, 
north,  and  north-west,  the  steppes  spread  continuously  for  4000  miles 
from  the  Pusstas  of  Hungary  to  the  Little  Gobi  of  Manchuria,  and, 
except  in  their  westernmost  extremity,  they  are  untraversed  by  rivers 
draining  to  an  accessible  ocean,  for  we  may  neglect  the  very  recent 
efforts  to  trade  to  the  mouths  of  the  Obi  and  Yenisei.  In  Europe, 
Western  Siberia,  and  Western  Turkestan  the  steppe  lands  lie  low,  in 
some  places  below  the  level  of  the  sea.  Further  to  east,  in  Mongolia, 
they  extend  over  plateaux;  but  the  passage  from  the  one  level  to  the 
other,  over  the  naked,  unscarped  lower  ranges  of  the  arid  heart-land, 
presents  little  difficulty. 

The  hordes  which  ultimately  fell  upon  Europe  in  the  middle  of  the 
fourteenth  century  gathered  their  first  force  3000  miles  away  on  the 
high  steppes  of  Mongolia.  The  havoc  wrought  for  a  few  years  in  Poland, 
Silesia,  Moravia,  Hungary,  Croatia,  and  Servia  was,  however,  but  the 
remotest  and  the  most  transient  result  of  the  great  stirring  of  the 
nomads  of  the  East  associated  with  the  name  of  Ghenghiz  Khan. 
While  the  Golden  Horde  occupied  the  steppe  of  Kipchak,  from  the 
Sea  of  Aral,  through  the  interval  between  the  Ural  range  and  the 
Caspian,  to  the  foot  of  the  Carpathians,  another  horde,  descending 
south-westward  between  the  Caspian  sea  and  the  Hindu  Kush  into 
Persia,  Mesopotamia,  and  even  into  Syria,  founded  the  domain  of  the 
Ilkhan.  A  third  subsequently  struck  into  Northern  China,  conquering 
Cathay.  India  and  Mangi,  or  Southern  China,  were  for  a  time  shel- 
tered by  the  incomparable  barrier  of  Tibet,  to  whose  efficacy  there  is, 
perhaps,  nothing  similar  in  the  world,  unless  it  be  the  Sahara  desert 
and  the  polar  ice.  But  at  a  later  time,  in  the  days  of  Marco  Polo  in 
the  case  of  Mangi,  in  those  of  Tamerlane  in  the  case  of  India,  the 
obstacle  was  circumvented.  Thus  it  happened  that  in  this  typical  and 
well-recorded  instance,  all  the  settled  margins  of  the  Old  World  sooner 
or  later  felt  the  expansive  force  of  mobile  power  originating  in  the 
steppe.  Russia,  Persia,  India,  and  China  were  either  made  tributary, 
or  received  Mongol  dynasties.  Even  the  incipient  power  of  the  Turks 
in  Asia  Minor  was  struck  down  for  half  a  century. 

As  in  the  case  of  Europe,  so  in  other  marginal  lands  of  Euro- Asia 
there  are  records  of  earlier  invasions.  China  had  more  than  once  to 
submit  to  conquest  from  the  north;  India  several  times  to  conquest 
from  the  north-west.  In  the  case  of  Persia,  however,  at  least  one  of 
the  earlier  descents  has  a  special  significance  in  the  history  of  Western 
civilization.  Three  or  four  centuries  before  the  Mongols,  the  Seljuk 
Turks,  emerging  from  Central  Asia,  overran  by  this  path  an  immense 
area  of  the  land,  which  we  may  describe  as  of  the  five  seas— Caspian, 
Black,  Mediterranean,  Ked,  and  Persian.  They  established  themselves 
at  Kerman,  at  Hamadan,  and  in  Asia  Minor,  and  they  overthrew  the 



Saracen  dominion  of  Bagdad  and  Damascus.  It  was  ostensibly  to  punish 
their  treatment  of  the  Christian  pilgrims  at  Jerusalem  that  Christen- 
dom undertook  the  great  series  of  campaigns  known  collectively  as  the 
Crusades.  Although  these  failed  in  their  immediate  objects,  they  so 
stirred  and  united  Europe  tbat  we  may  count  them  as  the  beginning 
of  modern  history — another  striking  instance  of  European  advance 
stimulated  by  the  necessity  of  reacting  against  pressure  from  the  heart 
of  Asia. 

The  conception  of  Euro- Asia  to  which  we  thus  attain  is  that  of  a 
continuous  land,  ice-girt  in  the  north,  water-girt  elsewhere,  measuring 
21  million  square  miles,  or  more  than  three  times  the  area  of  North 
America,  whose  centre  and  north,  measuring  some  9  million  square 
miles,  or  more  than  twice  the  area  of  Europe,  have  no  available 
water-ways  to  the  ocean,  but,  on  the  other  hand,  except  in  the  subarctic 
forest,  are  very  generally  favourable  to  the  mobility  of  horsemen  and 
camelmen.  To  east,  south,  and  west  of  this  heart-land  are  marginal 
regions,  ranged  in  a  vast  crescent,  accessible  to  shipmen.  According 
to  physical  conformation,  these  regions  are  four  in  number,  and  it  is  not 
a  little  remarkable  that  in  a  general  way  they  respectively  coincide 
with  the  spheres  of  the  four  great  religions — Buddhism,  Brahminism, 
Mahometanism,  and  Christianity.  The  first  two  are  the  monsoon  lands, 
turned  the  one  towards  the  Pacific,  and  the  other  towards  the  Indian 
ocean.  The  fourth  is  Europe,  watered  by  the  Atlantic  rains  from  the 
west.  These  three  together,  measuring  less  than  7  million  square  miles, 
have  more  than  1000  million  people,  or  two-thirds  of  the  world  population. 
The  third,  coinciding  with  the  land  of  the  Five  Seas,  or,  as  it  is  more 
often  described,  the  Nearer  East,  is  in  large  measure  deprived  of  moisture 
by  the  proximity  of  Africa,  and,  except  in  the  oases,  is  therefore 
thinly  peopled.  In  some  degree  it  partakes  of  the  characteristics  both 
of  the  marginal  belt  and  of  the  central  area  of  Euro-Asia.  It  is  mainly 
devoid  of  forest,  is  patched  with  desert,  and  is  therefore  suitable  for 
the  operations  of  the  nomad.  Dominantly,  however,  it  is  marginal,  for 
sea-gulfs  and  oceanic  rivers  lay  it  open  to  sea-power,  and  permit  of  the 
exercise  of  such  power  from  it.  As  a  consequence,  periodically  throughout 
history,  we  have  here  had  empires  belonging  essentially  to  the  marginal 
series,  based  on  the  agricultural  populations  of  the  great  oases  of 
Babylonia  and  Egypt,  and  in  free  water-communication  with  the  civilized 
worlds  of  the  Mediterranean  and  the  Indies.  But,  as  we  should  expect, 
these  empires  have  been  subject  to  an  unparalleled  series  of  revolutions, 
some  due  to  Scythian,  Turkish,  and  Mongol  raids  from  Central  Asia! 
others  to  the  effort  of  the  Mediterranean  peoples  to  conquer  the  overland 
ways  from  the  western  to  the  eastern  ocean.  Here  is  the  weakest  spot 
in  the  girdle  of  early  civilizations,  for  the  isthmus  of  Suez  divided  sea- 
power  into  Eastern  and  Western,  and  the  arid  wastes  of  Persia  advancing 
from  Central  Asia  to  the  Persian  gulf  gave  constant  opportunity  for 



nomad-power  to  strike  home  to  the  ocean  edge,  dividing  India  and 
China,  on  the  one  hand,  from  the  Mediterranean  world  on  the  other. 
Whenever  the  Babylonian,  the  Syrian,  and  the  Egyptian  oases  were 
weakly  held,  the  steppe-peoples  could  treat  the  open  tablelands  of 
Iran  and  Asia  Minor  as  forward  posts  whence  to  strike  through  the 
Punjab  into  India,  through  Syria  into  Egypt,  and  over  the  broken 
bridge  of  the  Bosphorus  and  Dardanelles  into  Hungary.  Yienna  stood 
in  the  gateway  of  Inner  Europe,  withstanding  the  nomadic  raids,  both 
those  which  came  by  the  direct  road  through  the  Eussian  steppe,  and 
those  which  came  by  the  loop  way  to  south  of  the  Black  and  Caspian 

Here  we  have  illustrated  the  essential  difference  between  the  Saracen 
and  the  Turkish  controls  of  the  Nearer  East.  The  Saracens  were  a 
branch  of  the  Semitic  race,  essentially  peoples  of  the  Euphrates  and 
Nile  and  of  the  smaller  oases  of  Lower  Asia.  They  created  a  great 
empire  by  availing  themselves  of  the  two  mobilities  permitted  by  their 
land — that  of  the  horse  and  camel  on  the  one  hand,  that  of  the  ship 
on  the  other.  At  different  times  their  fleets  controlled  both  the  Mediter- 
ranean as  far  as  Spain,  and  the  Indian  ocean  to  the  Malay  islands. 
From  their  strategically  central  position  between  the  eastern  and 
western  oceans,  they  attempted  the  conquest  of  all  the  marginal  lands 
of  the  Old  World,  imitating  Alexander  and  anticipating  Napoleon. 
They  could  even  threaten  the  steppe  land.  Wholly  distinct  from 
Arabia  as  from  Europe,  India,  and  China  were  the  Turanian  pagans 
from  the  closed  heart  of  Asia,  the  Turks  who  destroyed  the  Saracen 

Mobility  upon  the  ocean  is  the  natural  rival  of  horse  and  camel 
mobility  in  the  heart  of  the  continent.  It  was  upon  navigation  of 
oceanic  rivers  that  was  based  the  Potamic  stage  of  civilization,  that  of 
China  on  the  Yangtse,  that  of  India  on  the  Ganges,  that  of  Babylonia 
on  the  Euphrates,  that  of  Egypt  on  the  Nile.  It  was  essentially  upon 
the  navigation  of  the  Mediterranean  that  was  based  what  has  been 
described  as  the  Thalassic  stage  of  civilization,  that  of  the  Greeks  and 
Eomans.  The  Saracens  and  the  Vikings  held  sway  by  navigation  of 
the  oceanic  coasts. 

The  all-important  result  of  the  discovery  of  the  Cape  road  to  the 
Indies  was  to  connect  the  western  and  eastern  coastal  navigations  of  Euro- 
Asia,  even  though  by  a  circuitous  route,  and  thus  in  some  measure  to 
neutralize  the  strategical  advantage  of  the  central  position  of  the  steppe- 
nomads  by  pressing  upon  them  in  rear.  The  revolution  commenced  by 
the  great  mariners  of  the  Columbian  generation  endowed  Christendom 
with  the  widest  possible  mobility  of  power,  short  of  a  winged  mobility. 
The  one  and  continuous  ocean  enveloping  the  divided  and  insular  lands 
is,  of  course,  the  geographical  condition  of  ultimate  unity  in  the  command 
of  the  sea,  and  of  the  whole  theory  of  modern  naval  strategy  and  policy 



as  expounded  by  such  writers  as  Captain  Mahan  and:  Mr.  Spencer  Wilkin- 
son. The  broad  political  effect  was  to  reverse  the  relations  of  Europe 
and  Asia,  for  whereas  in  the  Middle  Ages  Europe  was  caged  between 
an  impassable  desert  to  south,  an  unknown  ocean  to  west,  and  icy  or 
forested  wastes  to  north  and  north-east,  and  in  the  east  and  south- 
east was  constantly  threatened  by  the  superior  mobility  of  the  horsemen 
and  camelmen,  she  now  emerged  upon  the  world,  multiplying  more  than 
thirty -fold  the  sea  surface  and  coastal  lands  to  which  she  had  access,  and 
wrapping  her  influence  round  the  Euro-Asiatic  land-power  which  had 
hitherto  threatened  her  very  existence.  New  Europes  were  created  in  the 
vacant  lands  discovered  in  the  midst  of  the  waters,  and  what  Britain 
and  Scandinavia  were  to  Europe  in  the  earlier  time,  that  have  America 
and  Australia,  and  in  some  measure  even  Trans-Saharan  Africa,  now 
become  to  Euro- Asia.  Britain,  Canada,  the  United  States,  South  Africa, 
Australia,  and  Japan  are  now  a  ring  of  outer  and  insular  bases  for 
sea-power  and  commerce,  inaccessible  to  the  land-power  of  Euro- Asia. 

But  the  land  power  still  remains,  and  recent  events  have  again  in- 
creased its  significance.  While  the  maritime  peoples  of  Western  Europe 
have  covered  the  ocean  with  their  fleets,  settled  the  outer  continents, 
and  in  varying  degree  made  tributary  the  oceanic  margins  of  Asia, 
Eussia  has  organized  the  Cossacks,  and,  emerging  from  her  northern 
forests,  has  policed  the  steppe  by  setting  her  own  nomads  to  meet  the 
Tartar  nomads.  The  Tudor  century,  which  saw  the  expansion  of 
Western  Europe  over  the  sea,  also  saw  Eussian  power  carried  from 
Moscow  through  Siberia.  The  eastward  swoop  of  the  horsemen  across 
Asia  was  an  event  almost  as  pregnant  with  political  consequences  as  was 
the  rounding  of  the  Cape,  although  the  two  movements  long  remained 

It  is  probably  one  of  the  most  striking  coincidences  of  history  that 
the  seaward  and  the  landward  expansion  of  Europe  should,  in  a  sense, 
continue  the  ancient  opposition  between  Eoman  and  Greek.  Few  great 
failures  have  had  more  far-reaching  consequences  than  the  failure  of 
Eome  to  Latinize  the  Greek.  The  Teuton  was  civilized  and  Christianized 
by  the  Eoman,  the  Slav  in  the  main  by  the  Greek.  It  is  the  Eomano- 
Teuton  who  in  later  times  embarked  upon  the  ocean ;  it  was  the  Graeco- 
Slav  who  rode  over  the  steppes,  conquering  the  Turanian.  Thus  the 
modern  land-power  differs  from  the  sea-power  no  less  in  the  source  of 
its  ideals  than  in  the  material  conditions  of  its  mobility.* 

In  the  wake  of  the  Cossack,  Eussia  has  safely  emerged  from  her 
former  seclusion  in  the  northern  forests.   Perhaps  the  change  of  greatest 

*  This  statement  was  criticized  in  the  discussion  which  followed  the  reading  of  the 
paper.  On  reconsidering  the  paragraph,  I  still  think  it  substantially  correct.  Even  the 
Byzantine  Greek  would  have  been  other  than  he  was  had  Eome  completed  the  subjugation 
of  the  ancient  Greek.  No  doubt  the  ideals  spoken  of  were  Byzantine  rather  than 
Hellenic,  but  they  were  not  Koman,  which  is  the  point. 



intrinsic  importance  which  took  place  in  Europe  in  the  last  century  was 
the  southward  migration  of  the  Kussian  peasants,  so  that,  whereas  agri- 
cultural settlements  formerly  ended  at  the  forest  boundary,  the  centre  of 
the  population  of  all  European  Eussia  now  lies  to  south  of  that  boundary, 
in  the  midst  of  the  wheat-fields  which  have  replaced  the  more  western 
steppes.  Odessa  has  here  risen  to  importance  with  the  rapidity  of  an 
American  city. 

A  generation  ago  steam  and  the  Suez  canal  appeared  to  have 
increased  the  mobility  of  sea-power  relatively  to  land-power.  Eailways 
acted  chiefly  as  feeders  to  ocean-going  commerce.  But  trans-conti- 
nental railways  are  now  transmuting  the  conditions  of  land-power,  and 
nowhere  can  they  have  such  effect  as  in  the  closed  heart-land  of  Euro- 
Asia,  in  vast  areas  of  which  neither  timber  nor  accessible  stone  was 
available  for  road-making.  Eailways  work  the  greater 'wonders  in  the 
steppe,  because  they  directly  replace  horse  and  camel  mobility,  the  road 
stage  of  development  having  here  been  omitted. 

In  the  matter  of  commerce  it  must  not  be  forgotten  that  ocean-going 
traffic,  however  relatively  cheap,  usually  involves  the  fourfold  handling 
of  goods — at  the  factory  of  origin,  at  the  export  wharf,  at  the  import 
wharf,  and  at  the  inland  warehouse  for  retail  distribution  ;  whereas  the 
continental  railway  truck  may  run  direct  from  the  exporting  factory 
into  the  importing  warehouse.  Thus  marginal  ocean- fed  commerce 
tends,  other  things  being  equal,  to  form  a  zone  of  penetration  round 
the  continents,  whose  inner  limit  is  roughly  marked  by  the  line  along 
which  the  cost  of  four  handlings,  the  oceanic  freight,  and  the  railway 
freight  from  the  neighbouring  coast,  is  equivalent  to  the  cost  of  two 
handlings  and  the  continental  railway  freight.  English  and  German 
coals  are  said  to  compete  on  such  terms  midway  through  Lombardy. 

The  Eussian  railways  have  a  clear  run  of  6000  miles  from 
Wirballen  in  the  west  to  Vladivostok  in  the  east.  The  Eussian  army 
in  Manchuria  is  as  significant  evidence  of  mobile  land-power  as  the 
British  army  in  South  Africa  was  of  sea-power.  True,  that  the  Trans- 
Siberian  railway  is  still  a  single  and  precarious  line  of  communication, 
but  the  century  will  not  be  old  before  all  Asia  is  covered  with  railways. 
The  spaces  within  the  Eussian  Empire  and  Mongolia  are  so  vast,  and 
their  potentialities  in  population,  wheat,  cotton,  fuel,  and  metals  so 
incalculably  great,  that  it  is  inevitable  that  a  vast  economic  world, 
more  or  less  apart,  will  there  develop  inaccessible  to  oceanic  commerce. 

As  we  consider  this  rapid  review  of  the  broader  currents  of  history , 
does  not  a  certain  persistence  of  geographical  relationship  become 
evident  ?  Is  not  the  pivot  region  of  the  world's  politics  that  vast  area 
of  Euro- Asia  which  is  inaccessible  to  ships,  but  in  antiquity  lay  open 
to  the  horse-riding  nomads,  and  is  to-day  about  to  be  covered  with  a 
network  of  railways?  There  have  been  and  are  here  the  conditions 
of  a  mobility  of  military  and  economic  power  of  a  far-reaching  and  yet 



limited  character.  Eussia  replaces  the  Mongol  Empire.  Her  pressure 
on  Finland,  on  Scandinavia,  on  Poland,  on  Turkey,  on  Persia,  on  India, 
and  on  China,  replaces  the  centrifugal  raids  of  the  steppemen.  In  the 
world  at  large  she  occupies  the  central  strategical  position  held  by- 
Germany  in  Europe.  She  can  strike  on  all  sides  and  be  struck  from  all 
sides,  save  the  north.  The  full  development  of  her  modern  railway 
mobility  is  merely  a  matter  of  time.  Nor  is  it  likely  that  any  possible 
social  revolution  will  alter  her  essential  relations  to  the  great  geo- 
graphical limits  of  her  existence.  Wisely  recognizing  the  fundamental 
limits  of  her  power,  her  rulers  have  parted  with  Alaska ;  for  it  is  as 
much  a  law  of  policy  for  Eussia  to  own  nothing  over  seas  as  for  Britain 
to  be  supreme  on  the  ocean. 

Outside  the  pivot  area,  in  a  great  inner  crescent,  are  Germany, 
Austria,  Turkey,  India,  and  China,  and  in  an  outer  crescent,  Britain, 
South  Africa,  Australia,  the  United  States,  Canada,  and  Japan.  In  the 
present  condition  of  the  balance  of  power,  the  pivot  state,  Eussia,  is 
not  equivalent  to  the  peripheral  states,  and  there  is  room  for  an  equi- 
poise in  France.  The  United  States  has  recently  become  an  eastern 
power,  affecting  the  European  balance  not  directly,  but  through  Eussia, 
and  she  will  construct  the  Panama  canal  to  make  her  Mississippi  and 
Atlantic  resources  available  in  the  Pacific.  From  this  point  of  view 
the  real  divide  between  east  and  west  is  to  be  found  in  the  Atlantic 

The  oversetting  of  the  balance  of  power  in  favour  of  the  pivot  state, 
resulting  in  its  expansion  over  the  marginal  lands  of  Euro- Asia,  would 
permit  of  the  use  of  vast  continental  resources  for  fleet-building,  and 
the  empire  of  the  world  would  then  be  in  sight.  This  might  happen  if 
Germany  were  to  ally  herself  with  Eussia.  The  threat  of  such  an  event 
should,  therefore,  throw  France  into  alliance  with  the  over-sea  powers, 
and  France,  Italy,  Egypt,  India,  and  Corea  would  become  so  many 
bridge  heads  where  the  outside  navies  would  support  armies  to  compel 
the  pivot  allies  to  deploy  land  forces  and  prevent  them  from  concentrating 
their  whole  strength  on  fleets.  On  a  smaller  scale  that  was  what 
Wellington  accomplished  from  his  sea-base  at  Torres  Vedras  in  the 
Peninsular  War.  May  not  this  in  the  end  prove  to  be  the  strategical 
function  of  India  in  the  British  Imperial  system  ?  Is  not  this  the  idea 
underlying  Mr.  Amery's  conception  that  the  British  military  front 
stretches  from  the  Cape  through  India  to  Japan  ? 

The  development  of  the  vast  potentialities  of  South  America  might 
have  a  decisive  influence  upon  the  system.  They  might  strengthen  the 
United  States,  or,  on  the  other  hand,  if  Germany  were  to  challenge  the 
Monroe  doctrine  successfully,  they  might  detach  Berlin  from  what  I 
may  perhaps  describe  as  a  pivot  policy.  The  particular  combinations 
of  power  brought  into  balance  are  not  material ;  my  contention  is  that 
from  a  geographical  point  of  view  they  are  likely  to  rotate  round  the 



pivot  state,  which  is  always  likely  to  be  great,  but  with  limited  mobility 
as  compared  with  the  surrounding  marginal  and  insular  powers. 

I  have  spoken  as  a  geographer.  The  actual  balance  of  political 
power  at  any  given  time  is,  of  course,  the  product,  on  the  one  hand,  of 
geographical  conditions,  both  economic  and  strategic,  and,  on  the  other 
hand,  of  the  relative  number,  virility,  equipment,  and  organization  of 
the  competing  peoples.  In  proportion  as  these  quantities  are  accurately 
estimated  are  we  likely  to  adjust  differences  without  the  crude  resort  to 
arms.  And  the  geographical  quantities  in  the  calculation  are  more 
measurable  and  more  nearly  constant  than  the  human.  Hence  we  should 
expect  to  find  our  formula  apply  equally  to  past  history  and  to  present 
politics.  The  social  movements  of  all  times  have  played  around  essen- 
tially the  game  physical  features,  for  I  doubt  whether  the  progressive 
desiccation  of  Asia  and  Africa,  even  if  proved,  has  in  historical  times 
vitally  altered  the  human  environment.  The  westward  march  of  empire 
appears  to  me  to  have  been  a  short  rotation  of  marginal  power  round 
the  south-western  and  western  edge  of  the  pivotal  area.  The  Nearer, 
Middle,  and  Far  Eastern  questions  relate  to  the  unstable  equilibrium  of 
inner  and  outer  powers  in  those  parts  of  the  marginal  crescent  where 
local  power  is,  at  present,  more  or  less  negligible. 

In  conclusion,  it  may  be  well  expressly  to  point  out  that  the  sub- 
stitution of  some  new  control  of  the  inland  area  for  that  of  Eussia  would 
not  tend  to  reduce  the  geographical  significance  of  the  pivot  position. 
Were  the  Chinese,  for  instance,  organized  by  the  Japanese,  to  overthrow 
the  Eussian  Empire  and  conquer  its  territory,  they  might  constitute 
the  yellow  peril  to  the  world's  freedom  just  because  they  would  add  an 
oceanic  frontage  to  the  resources  of  the  great  continent,  an  advantage 
as  yet  denied  to  the  Eussian  tenant  of  the  pivot  region. 

Before  the  reading  of  the  paper,  the  President  said  :  We  are  always  very  glad 
when  we  can  induce  our  friend  Mr.  Mackinder  to  address  us  on  any  subject,  because 
all  he  says  to  us  is  sure  to  he  interesting  and  original  and  valuable.  There  is  no 
necessity  for  me  to  introduce  so  old  a  friend  of  the  Society  to  the  meeting,  and  I 
will  therefore  at  once  ask  him  to  read  his  paper. 

After  the  reading  of  the  paper,  the  President  said  :  We  hope  that  Mr.  Spencer 
Wilkinson  will  offer  some  criticism  on  Mr.  Mackinder's  paper.  Of  course,  it  will 
not  be  possible  to  avoid  geographical  politics  to  a  certain  extent. 

Mr.  Spencer  Wilkinson  :  It  would  occur  to  me  that  the  most  natural  thing 
and  the  mcst  sincere  thing  to  say  at  the  beginning  is  to  endeavour  to  express  the 
great  gratitude  which,  I  am  sure,  every  one  here  feels  for  one  of  the  most  stimu- 
lating papers  that  has  been  read  for  a  long  time.  As  I  was  listening  to  the  paper, 
I  looked  with  regret  on  some  of  the  space  that  is  unoccupied  here,  and  I  much 
regret  that  a  portion  of  it  was  not  occupied  by  the  members  of  the  Cabinet,  for  I 
gathered  that  in  Mr.  Mackinder's  paper  we  have  two  main  doctrines  laid  down :  the 
first,  which  is  not  altogether  new — I  think  it  was  foreseen  some  years  back  in  the  last 
century — that  since  the  modern  improvements  of  steam  navigation  the  whole  of 
the  world  has  become  one,  and  has  become  one  political  system.    I  forget  the 

No.  IV.— April,  1904.]  2  g